Light shone through the cracks in the window, waking Nic up unceremoniously, just as it always did. The bed creaked as Nic sat up, rubbing his eyes groggily. As he did everyday, Nic stood up and slowly dragged himself over to the cracked mirror in the corner. Draped over it were the brown pants he wore everyday and a faded dark blue shirt. They had both been gifts from Aria on his birthday nearly two years prior, soon after they had first met. When she gave him the clothes, she said it was because she didn want to be seen with someone who only had ripped clothes to wear.
Nic didn blame her. He had hated the fact that all his clothes were old and ripped. That they were hand me downs from when his father was the same age Nic was now. But his parents were poor, even for rad-town standards. They say it is because they are still relatively new to this town and had come here with nothing to their name. But Nic knew the truth. In reality, it was because of their family name that they were poor. Thats why they always hid it. No one wants to be associated with a Verilo, not after what their ancestor did. For the past two and a half centuries, whenever a rad-town found out that there were Verilos living amongst them, they always ran them out of town. And every time they were forced to leave behind all of their possessions. And so Nics family continued to live like this, even now. Moving from rad-town to rad-town whenever they were forced out. Nic felt lucky that they hadn been forced out of their current home in the nearly ten years they had lived there.
Nic quickly finished putting on his clothes, and after quickly running though his hair with his hand to comb it a bit, he turned back around and walked back over to his old bed. With each step, the wood beneath his feet creaked and groaned. Nic kneeled down and reached beneath his bed. Fumbling about for a few seconds, Nic finally grabbed what he was looking for and pulled it out. In his hand was a small black journal. This journal was barely wider and taller than Nics hand but was fairly thick, nearly 3 cer thick of paper. Sitting back against the side of his bed, Nic opened the journal to the front page and read it again.
"If someone of my legacy is reading this, and the world is still ravaged by the Irradiation I caused, please learn magic on your own. Once you do, head to the house in which I will have died. Once there, you shall meet a trusted friend of mine. He is a demi-human and should live much much longer than I. He will continue to lead you on your journey for me. A journey to save this world. - Noah Verilo"
That was all that was written on the front page of the journal. And it was something that Nic read every single day. It was his motivation. His salvation. If he could learn magic and go on this journey, then no one will hate his family anymore. Even if his mother and father would try to stop him, they would be unable to once he turned 17 in a few weeks and became an adult as well. The rest of the journal contained a myriad of writings from Noah Verilo, some comprehensible, but most weren . They were like the writings of a madman at times. But the parts that Nic could read clearly showed that Noah felt remorse for what he had done. Nic knew that his ancestor had left something to make up for his shortcomings because of that remorse. And Nic was adamant on being the one to find out what it is.
"Nic! Its time for breakfast, come on out!"
The sweet voice of his mother called out from outside of his room, his stomach rumbling in response to her offer. Nic slowly closed the black journal and slid it back under the old bed as he stood up, the floorboards creaking once again. He quickly grabbed his bag full of school materials before exiting his room and sitting down with his parents to eat breakfast.
"Are you actually going to stay in class all day today? Im getting tired of being informed that you were missing for large portions of the day." Nic had yet to take a bite of his food before his dad spoke up. His mother was quietly looking down at her food, ignoring the daily song and dance that was about to start.
"What do you care? Its not like staying there will get me anywhere in life. Being a Verilo guarantees that." Nic spat back his response, malice underlining his words. The hatred he held for his father tangled around his heart so much that nothing would ever unravel it.
A sigh came from across the table before his dad responded. "That won change. Not for a while yet. Instead, you should be focusing on finding a partner to live your life with. Living by yourself… Its a hard path to take."
The face of his only friend flashed through Nics mind as his dad was talking. Nic swallowed the food he was chewing on. "I don want to bring someone else into this mess of a family until I fix it! Why don you understand that? If I just do what his journal says-"
"Why do you assume everything in that journal is correct?!" His father cut Nic off. The daily song and dance was in full swing.
"Why do you think it isn ? You have never told me why it isn true! So why should I believe you? What proof do you have?"
Bam! A fist slammed against the table. "How many times have I told you; you don need to know the truth. Just trust me on this one thing Nic, please. I don want you to have to live with disappointment your entire life."
Nic stood up from the table. Half of his food was still on the plate in front of him, but Nic didn care. He hated everything his father was saying. This was exactly why he hated him. Every day it was the same thing. "Trust me on this Nic", "Believe me", "Its for your own good". Every time it was the same thing, and every time it rang hollow in Nics ears.
As he walked out of the house, the door creaking as it opened and closed, he glanced back at his parents to see his mom consoling his dad quietly. She was always on his side. No one was ever on Nics, not in this family.
As he exited the house, the morning sun peaking over the treetops blinded him momentarily. A few birds chirped in the distance as the people throughout S-012 started their days.
The building Nic had just walked out of, the place he called home, was a dilapidated house. From the haphazardly boarded up windows to the clearly visible hole in the roof on the right side of the building, its age was on clear display. It was also significantly smaller than any other building in the Rad-Town that Nic lived in.
This small village of just over a hundred people was known as a Rad-Town. Rad-Towns were small villages that usually only numbered in the few hundreds of residents, and S-012 was on the smaller side of that.
The labeling of Rad-Towns are decided by the larger City-States and Nations that hold power over the land of Kronul. Each Rad-Town was given an identification number as a name by these larger powers. In the case of the Rad-Town that Nic lived within, the "S" came from the nearby City-State of Sanum that looked over the Rad-Towns near it. The "012" signifies this Rad-Town as being the twelfth one to be created after the Irradiated Winter in the area.
Nic longingly sighed as he thought about the difference between Rad-Towns and the larger powers; mainly that the larger powers had seemingly been freed from the Irradiation that permeated around everyone else.
He knew his family was to blame for the creation of Irradiation in the first place, but how did those cities escape the same fate as everyone else? One of the hands at his side clenched into a fist as he thought about it.
"Oh, Nic is that you? Won you be late to class if you
e still here?" A sweet voice echoed across the small clearing in front of Nics home. It came from the back porch of the nearest house and the old lady standing upon it.
She was wearing comfortable looking clothes that were well kept. Her face warmed any who saw it and never looked down on anyone, no matter what life they had led up to meeting her. Her once dirty blonde hair was now interlaced with gray hairs to the point that you couldn tell what one covered more of her head.
But the most telling feature of all were the two floppy dog ears on either side of her head and the long, bushy tail trailing behind her. Those two features marked her as one of the few Demi-Humans living within the Rad-Town. Her name was Mrs. Carnie.
She had a first name, Nic was sure of that, but he had never learned it. He had also never even asked it, which had not too small an impact on why he didn know it. She was one of the few people in the Rad-Town that Nic had any interactions with. She would constantly appear as he left in the morning and say a few words to him as he passed by.
This morning, her greeting had snapped Nic back into focus and caused him to start his walk. His path took him towards the side of the Carnie house, and like always, he didn respond back to Mrs. Carnies questions.
"Silent like always, huh? Let me guess, you got in a fight with your pops again?" Nic stopped in his tracks. She had heard the commotion yet again.
This was due to the enhanced hearing she had thanks to the canine aspects of her body. Beyond being a Demi-Human, Mrs. Carnie was more distinctly a Beast Person. The first Beast People, created during the First Irradiated Winter alongside the other side of Demi-Humans; the Elves, are the result of Irradiation merging the soul of a human with the soul of an animal.
While the humans body kept its base shape, it would grow new features based on the animal whose soul was merged with it. Ninety percent of the time, the original human consciousness would be the one still around when the merge was complete, but there were the occasional Beast People where the animals consciousness would end up in charge. Either way, the Beast Person would be able to do anything a human could, plus more depending on the type of Beast Person they became.
However, second generation and beyond Demi-Humans would be born with the aspects of their parents. So a member of the Canine Tribe would give birth to another Demi-Human who would have the features of a Canine.
As for Elves, they came into being in a very similar fashion to the Beast People, but instead of their souls merging with the souls of animals, Elves souls merged with Elemental Spirits. Once merged, their hair and eye color would turn into a certain color based on the Elemental Spirit that the soul merged with. Elves also have a far greater control of their magic than any human or Beast Person would ever hope to achieve. One thing common to all Demi-Humans was the fact that their average lifespans were centuries long, sitting at 250 years.
"One day you will finally speak to me. One day. I just hope it won be too late when you do." Mrs. Carnie turned and began to open the door to her home.
"Um… Can I ask you something really quick?" Nic spoke up, stopping the old lady from heading back inside. He had remembered something she had once said.
"So you finally talk! What is it you wanted to know, young Nic?" She turned back around, a large smile on her face and jubilation in her voice.
"You used to live in Sanum right? Is it true that there is no Irradiation there?" Nic saw her smile slowly vanish as a deep sigh escaped her lips.
"I hope you aren asking this because of Dave. He and I both knew the risks of coming to live out here in a Rad-Town, even if we are Demi-Humans. But yes, there is no Irradiation in the bigger Cities like Sanum." Mrs. Carnie had immediately believed that Nic was asking about her husband, who was currently suffering from Irradiation sickness.
Irradiation Sickness is caused by someone being exposed to large amounts of Irradiation over time. The longer someone is exposed to Irradiation, the more it will enter their body. Once it reaches the point that their body can handle any more Irradiation, they begin the slow and painful path to death. This process is what is referred to as Irradiation Sickness.
It is the fact that most people within Rad-Towns contract Irradiation Sickness that larger powers control the Rad-Towns near them. Most humans who lived in Rad-Towns would contract Irradiation Sickness by their late twenties or early thirties. In fact, the average lifespan of a human was barely 35 years of age because of this.
But for Demi-Humans, this fear of Irradiation Sickness was almost non-existent. Due to how Demi-Humans first came about, they had an increased resistance to irradiation in the first place. So for them, succumbing to irradiation sickness was something that rarely happened. This was why Mrs. Carnies husband, who was also a member of the Canine tribe of Beast People, contracting Irradiation Sickness was the first thing she had thought of.
"Actually, I wanted to know if you knew why they didn have any Irradiation. But, speaking of Mr. Carnie, is he still in a lot of pain?" Nic brought up his actual reason for asking the question, but also knew that he would sound too insensitive if he brushed past what she had said.
"Hes the same as he has been for the past few weeks. Hes powering through, but I fear it is too much for him." Mrs. Carnie looked down, sadness passing across her face for a second before she bottled it up with a forced smile back at Nic. "As for why they don have Irradiation… I was born a bit after it happened, but I heard that there was this lady… I believe she was called "The Blood Elf"? But apparently she went around and absorbed the Irradiation from a few cities. Those cities became the basis for the oldest City-States and Nations."
The sound of a man coughing came from inside the house. Mrs. Carnie sighed and put her hand back on the doorknob that led inside.
"Im sorry if that didn answer your question, but I should get back to Dave." With that, the Beast Person disappeared inside the house. Nic said nothing as he turned and continued on his way. She had given him a lead. The Blood Elf. Nic tucked that name into his mind. He would need to see if he could find anything else out about them later.
S-012, the Rad-Town that Nic lived in was split into three distinct sections. The first two lay on the eastern side of the town, separated by the path that led to the town center. Both held most of the homes that people lived in. The third section covered the entire eastern portion of the Rad-Town and consisted of the massive farm that fed everyone in S-012.
The Southwestern section consisted almost entirely of homes, but did have one thing different from the others. Just past the wooden fence in the southwest of the Rad-Town was the local graveyard. Nics home was actually fairly close to the graveyard, nestled against the same length of fence as the graveyard.
The northern of the two sections held a larger building than the others. This building was the Rad-Towns schoolhouse, something not seen in other Rad-Towns. A young researcher from Sanum had decided to start teaching in the Rad-Town, hoping to help its residents. Inside the building, roughly thirty children of varying ages were taught by this researcher every day. This is where Nic should have been going, though he usually went past it, through a small hole in the wooden fence that surrounded the Rad-Town and across the River to the northwest of the town.
As he sat on the rock with his eyes closed, Nic felt like he could hear the entire world. The loudest thing he heard was the water of the nearby river as it splashed against the rocks on the riverbed. The chirping of the birds and the quiet humming of the insects sat as the melody and harmony to the waters backing. Occasionally he heard the sounds of kids playing in the clearings of the Rad-Town, or their parents yelling at them to get back inside. But most of all, he heard her soothing voice every few minutes as she asked him the same question.
"Can you feel it?"
He could feel the hard rock beneath his butt and the hot sun beating down on his back, but that wasn what Aria wanted to know. Could he feel any magical energy was what she actually meant. And yet, he still shook his head no. He couldn feel anything at all.
Nearly two years ago, Nic had gone around the town, asking every magic user he could find if they would teach him how to use magic. Every one of them had turned him down. Everyone except for Aria. She had quickly said yes, and the next day had started trying to teach him. Most of her teaching techniques were simply having Nic try things she did when she used magic. When all of those didn work, she started trying techniques she had heard other mages use to teach people. So far, none of those have worked either. Two years later, Nic was nowhere closer to using magic himself.
Letting out a deep sigh, Nic opened his eyes, only to find Arias face right in front of his. Her light brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail gently waving in the breeze, her light blue eyes full of curiosity were staring at his face and her soft lips were open ever so slightly, letting in air. Letting out a startled yelp, Nic fell backwards off the rock, landing hard on his back and knocking all of the air out of his lungs. As he gasped for air, trying to refill his lungs, he heard a cry from Aria before she flew around the rock to his side.
"Are you okay? You
e not hurt badly?"
Nic regained his breath and slowly sat up. As he did he felt the wind at his back, like it was helping him sit up. He put out one hand to stop Aria from getting closer to him.
"Why were you so close to me?" While he was asking this question, the truth was that he didn mind her being that close to him. He had come to find that Aria was a very caring individual. Whenever Nic got injured near her, she was always the first to ask him if he was alright. And if it was genuinely bad, she would use her magic to help him, like she just had when he was sitting up.
"Well, you looked so peaceful while sitting there that I thought you might have fallen asleep."
"Even though I was shaking my head no to your questions?" There was a silent minute before Aria responded.
"Well, I, uh, maybe that was like something you learned to do. Or something like that." Arias light blue eyes darted around sheepishly as she struggled to come up with her response. Nic cracked a small grin as he watched her.
"And here I thought maybe you just wanted to get a good look at me because you liked me." Almost as soon as Nic had let that out, he was flying through the air, a strong gust of wind having knocked him off the ground. He flew for a few mer before landing on the ground. Standing up, he looked back at Aria only to see a red face staring at him.
"Wh-Wh-Why would you say that?!" Nic looked at her red face for a minute before responding. He had meant it as a joke, but did she actually feel that way about him? Should he bring it up again? But what if she hits him with the wind again? He definitely didn want to be sent flying a couple more mer if he could help it.
"It was a joke! Im sorry!"
"Huh?" After hearing Nics apology, Aria looked at where he was and grew even redder in the face for some reason that Nic didn know. She quickly stood up and patted the dirt off of her previously clean clothes. She quickly walked over to Nic and bowed her head as an apology.
"Im sorry for taking that too seriously Nic."
"Theres no need for you to apologize, Aria, seriously. Please lift your head."
Aria did as she was asked and relaxed a bit. Her face had returned to its usual color, no longer thoroughly red. Nic gave her a small smile and the two walked back over to the rock that Nic had been sitting on.
"So you didn feel anything?" Arias tone had gotten serious, dropping the soothing nature it had held just seconds ago. Nic shook his head in response and watched Aria begin to pace back and forth.
He understood why she was doing it. The two were running out of time for Nic to learn magic from Aria. She had plans to leave the rad-town as soon as she turned seventeen in three weeks. If the two couldn figure this out before then, Nic would be stuck unable to learn magic. If anything, Nic felt that he should be the one who was worried about this, not Aria. And yet, there she was, pacing far more than Nic ever had when thinking about this. Just as Nic was about to speak up, Aria stopped pacing and thrust one of her hands out in a punching motion. A couple trees a mer away all swayed in the force of the wind Aria had sent towards them. Nic thought he heard a couple snaps from them, but they all stayed upright in the end.
"Why isn anything working? Weve tried every method I could think of, and yet we haven been able to move one cer when it comes to you learning magic! This is just unfair to you, right Nic?"
The anger and frustration in Arias voice caught Nic off guard, causing him just to stare at her. As she turned to face him, Nic saw her eyes. They were quivering, as if she was about to cry, and yet Nic could feel that they were just begging him to agree with her. But he couldn find himself to agree with her completely. Whenever someone else had refused to teach him Magic, they had always said the same thing.
"Training someone to use magic is too hard. It would be a waste to even try."
He knew that it was natural for this to not work. But he didn want to tell Aria that. He knew it would break her to hear that. It was possible that she would refuse to speak to him for the next three weeks. Maybe she would even hate him for it. Nic was fine if she hated him for his bloodline, everyone would, but he didn want her to hate him for this.
"Maybe its not how you are teaching me, but where you are teaching me." Nic said this, hoping to throw her off of asking him to side with her. Even if what he said was true, there was nowhere else for them to practice like this. Hopefully she wouldn hate him for that.
"Where Im teaching you? I guess thats the only thing we have yet to do… But, Im leaving the town soon, there isn really time to go to that place." Aria was talking to herself, yet Nic heard every word. There was nothing the two of them could do. In the end the past two years of work had amounted to a sum of nothing. There was nothing to show for those two years.
"Come with me to Sanum then!"
"Huh?!" Nics thoughts were cut off by Arias ridiculous request. "Theres no way. I wouldn even be able to get into Sanum! Let alone the citys top school."
"I mean, you will probably have to sit in quarantine for a while… but eventually you will be let into the city. And then you can come to the school with me. Im sure the professors in the magic department there would have an easier time teaching you!"
"Thats easy for you to say! You probably wouldn have to even stay by yourself for a week! After all, you lived there didn you?" Nic instantly tried to shoot down the idea. After all, he didn want to step foot in that city, not while his family name was still looked down upon by the masses.
"Sure, but you know, it really wouldn be that bad for you. I would try to visit you as often as I would be allowed to."
"Im not doing it."
"Why? Its the perfect opportunity for you. You get to continue trying to learn magic and at the same time you get to leave this rundown town." How Aria made it sound was the furthest from what Nic felt. His stomach churned at the thought of living in Sanum as he was right now.
"Look, Im not doing it. Good luck on your own travels there in three weeks but I am staying here." Nic made his stance on the matter clear. Turning around, Nic went to leave but was stopped by the wind in front of him.
"Fine. Fine. You won go to Sanum with me," There was a hint of sadness in Arias voice as she spoke behind Nic. "Will you at least meet me outside of the village fence near your place tonight? I want to take you somewhere."
Nic sighed and looked back at Aria. She was looking away from him, towards the ground to her left. Despite that, Nic could still see a tinge of color in her cheeks that wasn normally there.
He had no idea what she was planning. For all he knew, she could be plotting to kidnap him and forcefully take him to Sanum. Though based on everything she had done so far in the two years that they had known each other, that probably wasn the case.
Nic simply had to believe her that she simply wanted to show him something.
"Fine. Meet in the wooded area around there at sundown?" Arias head snapped onto Nic and a pleasant smile appeared on her lips.
"Good. Oh and make sure to pack a day or twos worth of clothes. Well probably have to camp at least one night to get to where I want to take you."
Nic felt relieved when she said he only needed a single change of clothes. At that short of a time frame, Sanum was definitely not their destination. On foot, the city took nearly a week to travel there and back from the rad-town that they currently resided in.
With nothing else to say, Nic turned once again and left, the wind letting him pass this time. The sun was already setting, nearly three quarters of the way through the sky. The two didn have much time before they had promised to meet outside of the city walls.
Aria stuffed the final set of clothes she felt she would need into the small bag on her bed. Normally it carried books and other items she was supposed to use at the local school, but for now all of those items were tucked under her bed. In their place were four days worth of clothes, a small knife she had gotten found on the ground one day, and a few pieces of food that should last a bit, mainly jerky and water.
She could hear her parents talking in the main room of their house. Soon the main door to the house opened and closed in quick succession. Peaking out of her window, Aria saw her father walking away from the house. He seemed to be walking to the farms in the northern section of the rad-town.
A knock sounded at Arias door, sending her scrambling to hide the bag on her bed before the door opened. When her mother peered her head in, Aria was in an awkward position on her bed, the bag hopefully covered enough by the blanket she was pulling over it. Her mother gave her a questioning look before speaking.
"Aria, why are you still in your normal clothes? Its getting kind of late, you would normally be wearing your pajamas at this point. Or at least something a bit more comfortable to laze around in."
Aria looked down at her clothes and realized what her mother was talking about. She had never changed out of her clothes she had been wearing that day. Normally she wouldve but today she hadn given the promise that Nic and her had made just a couple hours earlier.
"Oh, um, I got distracted with some stuff and forgot to change, I guess."
"I see. Well, can I open this door all the way? I want to talk to you about something." Aria nodded her head and her mother opened the door all the way. Unlike Aria, she really was in her nighttime clothes. Aria sat up and straightened herself out as she sat on the edge of her bed.
"What did you want to talk about, mama?" Her mom sighed as she leaned on the door frame.
"Do I really need to say it out loud? You skipped school again for the millionth time." Aria flinched a bit as her mothers tone sharpened. "I assume you were with that boy again?"
"Mama, you already know that this towns school just doesn do anything for me! The school I went to in Sanum already covered everything that this school is teaching to even the oldest kids there."
"I know, I know. But you can keep skipping like this just to hang out with that boy all the time."
Aria bit her lip. The things being said weren foreign to her, though they usually came from her father, not her mama. Aria wondered if this was her fathers idea to get her to finally listen to him.
"This… Father set you up to this, didn he?"
"Aria, stop this. I know you don like your father saying these things, but hes only doing it because he wants you to be safe."
Arias fist clenched itself in her lap. She was done with how her parents were trying to control who she was with.
"Stop trying to force me to stop my friendship with Nic! I don care if you two try to force me to go to school, or even try to do something else. But stop trying to control my friendships!"
Arias emotions ran freely as she shouted at her mother. She didn care how her parents felt. She just wanted the freedom to make her own choices.
A pained expression sat on her mothers face. She slowly opened her mouth to say something but quickly closed it. She took a step back and halfway closed the door. Before she fully closed it, she left Aria one last message.
"Your father is going to be gone for another hour or so. And I think Im going to stay in our room for a bit, relaxing." Aria froze at her mothers comment. She silently watched her mother close the door.
As soon as she was alone again she grabbed the bag sitting on her bed, her hands shaking uncontrollably. She peeked out of the window, making sure no one was around before hopping through it. The second her feet hit the ground, a far too familiar man rounded a corner of one of the houses nearby. Her father instantly saw Aria and gave a shout, but she was already rushing off towards the fence that encircled the town.
Nic threw the bag over his shoulder, the black book inside hitting him on the back. As he moved towards the boarded up window, he quietly pushed one of the planks back, letting it fall to the grass below with a muffled hit. He pushed a second one off, then a third, both of which also fell and hit the ground with a muffled hit.
At that point, Nic had a hole big enough for himself to fit through. Squeezing through, Nic found himself outside, the setting sun covering him in its orange glow. Barely 10 mer away was the dilapidated fence that acted as the boundary for the rad-town.
Nic quietly walked over, tossing his bag up and over the fence. Once he heard it hit the ground on the other side, he backed up a few steps. The fence wasn too tall. At least for Nic. Only about 2 heads taller than him, he could easily climb it.
And thats what he did. With very little noise, Nic was dropping down to the other side of the fence. Picking up his bag, he quickly made his way to the edge of the nearby forest. He thought he heard his mothers voice behind the fence, but he ignored it and pushed on.
Once in the forest, Nic sat down and got ready to wait for Aria. Unsure of when she would arrive, he planned to make sure that everything he would need was in his bag. Two shirts, an extra pair of pants, the black book that belonged to his ancestor and a poorly made knife sat in it. Nodding to himself, he closed the bag and quietly waited for Aria.
It didn take long for her to arrive. She arrived in a bit of a panic and out of breath. Once he saw how she looked, Nic was instantly on his feet.
"What happened? Is everything good?"
Aria shook her head.
"Lets get going, quickly. My dad saw me leaving and gave chase. Although Im far faster than him, it would be best if we lost him in the forest." Aria explained her predicament through labored breaths.
Hearing it, Nic simply gave her a single nod of his head before the two began making their way into the forest. Aria led in front. She constantly was using her magic to tell her way through the forest.
Nic was grateful for that. If he had been in charge of leading them through the forest, he knew he would have gotten lost. Almost everything looked the same to him. A part of him wondered if they truly were going in circles.
The sun quickly set, further obscuring Nics vision as it quickly became only lit by the barely visible moon and the stars in the night sky. Because he was barely able to see Aria, he quickened his pace until the two were moving through the forest side by side.
Aria finally stopped when the two came upon a small river cutting across their path. By this time the moon had risen fairly high into the sky. Nic was starting to feel tired himself, and one look at Aria showed she was pushing herself through the tiredness to still be walking at this point.
"Go ahead and sit down, Ill make a small fire." Nic motioned to a nearby rock as he told Aria to sit down. She quietly followed his instructions and watched him as he picked up some small twigs and put them in a pile in front of her. After gathering enough wood, Nic grabbed a rock and his beat up knife from his bag. Scraping them together, he was able to create sparks. The sparks caught on the twigs and the small fire started.
Seeing his work done, Nic sat back on the opposite side of the fire from Aria, letting the heat be absorbed by his body. It wasn until he let that happen that he realized how cold the early spring wind had made him.
"Thanks for that." Aria held her hands up to the flames. Nic realized that she was also probably cold and was loving the heat from the fire.
"Oh, uh, no problem."
Nic and Aria sat there in silence, letting their bodies warm up. Nic started fidgeting a bit, uncomfortable with the silence. He never felt like this and wondered why he felt this way now. He wondered if Aria also felt uncomfortable with the silence.
The silence was broken by both of them at the same time. Nic quickly backed off from trying to initiate the conversation.
"You go first." He motioned to her with his hand as he spoke.
"Um… well. I just kind of wanted to know. Why are you so against going to Sanum? Wouldn that be the best route for you to achieve your dream? About wanting a better life for your children than what you have had?" Nic sat there quietly listening. When she brought out the dream he was confused for a minute before remembering. He had made up that lie when she first started trying to teach him magic.
Looking at it from that perspective, Aria was completely right. It would be far better for him to go to Sanum with her if that was his ultimate goal in learning magic.
But it wasn . Not even close. If he went to Sanum, they would find out who he is. Nic was sure he would be arrested at least, if not executed, for trying to learn magic after what his ancestor did.
"That would be true. If that was the only factor. Sadly, my family isn allowed in Sanum for various reasons. I would probably be arrested on sight if I had to hazard a guess." It wasn really a lie in the end. Nic had just left out most of the details.
"Your family isn allowed into Sanum? Why? And why didn you just tell me that earlier…?" Her voice started trailing towards the end. Aria was slowly nodding off in the middle of their conversation.
"Its the dark blot on the family. None of us like bringing it up."
"I see…" Aria continued to slur her speech more as her eyelids grew too heavy for themselves. With a final wave of her hand, she finally fell asleep. Nic was unsure what the final wave had been for, but he assumed it was fine.
As he watched Aria sit there against the rock, her eyes closed in sleep, he couldn help but feel like it was wrong for him to keep lying to Aria like this. Ever since the two of them had gotten to know each other, she had always been open and free with Nic. Yet besides that, he always withheld the truth from her.
As Nics eyelids began to grow too heavy for him, he let out a small sigh. His mind drifted to sleep as he debated with himself as to whether or not he should tell Aria the truth.
Nics eyes flew open. The sky above him was starting to grow light. The pit that had once housed their small fire had been reduced to burned twigs. Not even a small amount of smoke had been left. Aria was still asleep on the other side of the twigs.
The sound of something nearby stepping on a branch had woken Nic up. He quietly grabbed his old knife and stood up. Holding the knife out in front of him defensively, he took a step forward, making as little noise as he could.
As he came up on a bend in the small river, he found the source of the noise. Sitting in front of him, lapping up water from the stream, was a pack of seven small foxes.
As he came into view of them, the largest of the group turned its orange face to look at Nic. Its beady orange eyes stared into his soul, like it was searching for something. Nic was paralyzed, unable to move until the fox averted its gaze.
It felt like an eternity, but when the fox finally did look away, it quickly led the pack across the river, away from Nic. The breath he had been holding finally escaped his lips. The moment it did-
Arias sudden voice behind Nic caused him to jump out of his skin, dropping the knife to the ground as he flew to the side.
"Bwahaha!" Aria burst out into laughter as Nic jumped. She clutched her sides as she doubled over, the laughter continuing to pour out.
"What! What was that!?" She was barely able to say a sentence before bursting out laughing again when she looked at Nics face. He could feel it burning up.
"You scared me! Is this not a normal reaction to being scared **less?" Nic bent down and picked up the old knife.
"Why, Hahahaha, why are you even over here? I woke up and you were gone so I came to find you." Aria was struggling to talk. Unlike the previous night, this time it was because she was having trouble breathing in without continuing to laugh.
His face getting even hotter, Nic pushed past Aria and reached their makeshift campsite. He quickly grabbed his bag and slung it over his shoulder. He was too embarrassed to stay in the area.
When Aria saw that he was ready to go, she scattered the burnt branches to the wind and grabbed her own bag.
"Well be walking most of today. You ready to go?" Aria had finally gotten herself under control, causing her speech to go back to normal. Nic simply nodded and the two set off into the forest once again. Nic still had no idea where Aria was taking him, and had fallen into step just a couple steps behind her.
The two walked in silence the entire day. They only stopped to eat when the sun was at its highest point in the sky. A distance had grown between the two in the past day. Nic was unsure if it was the fact that he had refused to go to Sanum or something else. But neither Nic or Aria found themselves able to initiate the conversation with the other.
Before Nic had realized it, the two had started ascending a large hill. It was only as they neared the top of the hill that he realized the sun was about to set. It had already been close to an entire day of walking. Nic readied himself to ask Aria if they would need to take another break for the night when the two came upon a large clearing that led to the top of the hill just a few mer ahead.
Aria finally spoke up, letting Nic know that they had arrived at their destination. She quickly dropped her bag off next to one of the trees before walking up to the zenith of the hill. Nic followed her lead, wondering why they had come to a hill of all places.
"What is this place?"
"Its where I first used my magic." Aria looked back and smiled at Nic as she answered him.
"Huh? Wait, how long ago was that?" Nic rushed forward to walk by Arias side as they reached the top of the hill.
"Five years ago. On our way to the rad-town from Sanum." Nic looked over at Aria, shock covering his face. This caused her to chuckle a bit. "Surprising, right? For twelve years I was like you, unable to use magic. It wasn until I sat on this hill one night that I was first able to control the wind."
Nics voice caught in his throat as the two reached the peak of the hill. In front of him, the sky was a brilliant golden orange as the sun set behind a mountain in the distance. Outlines of the many large buildings on the mountain were visible, even at this distance, because of this.
Sanum, the largest and oldest City-State in all of Kronul, sat on that mountain. Hundreds of thousands of people lived in that city. It would be bustling with life, even as Nic and Aria watched over it from afar.
"You brought me here because of what I said yesterday, didn you?" Nic had said it himself, that the only thing left for them to try was changing where Aria taught him magic. This was most likely her last attempt. If Nic failed here, Aria would give up.
"Mhm. Thats right."
Aria put her hands on Nics shoulders and pulled down, telling him to sit down. Nic did as he was asked and sat down on the grass. Folding his legs over each other, he got into his usual, comfortable position for when he tried to use magic.
"Close your eyes."
Aria was leading him through the usual stuff. He closed them like she asked. What he wasn expecting was to feel her leaning against his back.
"Do what I say, okay?"
Barely a whisper entered his ear. He nodded. His heart was beating a million times a minute. He felt her hand grab his and turn it so that the palm was facing up.
"Open your hand."
Nic barely heard her over his beating heart. Why was his heart beating so much? Why was his face extremely hot right now? Was this nerves? Or something else entirely. He didn know.
"Nic. I want to be free to make my own decisions. Thats how Ive always lived since I moved away from Sanum. I want that freedom. Thats my dream. My ideal life. Its similar to yours, isn it? And thats why I want to help you so much. I want you to be able to be free as well. No matter who you are, or who your family is. I want you to be free."
What she said struck the walls around his inner self. He had struggled, debated whether he should reveal everything to her. Unsure of whether she would accept the truth. But every word she said had struck away at those walls that surrounded him.
"Aria, I…" He wanted to tell her everything. Every part about him. But pressure had stopped him. A strong pressure in his throat stopped his voice from coming out. At the same time, he felt pressure on his hand, as if he was pushing on something.
"... -ic. Nic! Open your eyes!" Aria shouting in his ear brought Nic back to reality. When he opened his eyes, the sight of his hand stunned him.
"Is… Is this you?" Sitting just a few cer above the palm of his hand was a twig, floating in midair. It looked just like when Aria floated things with her magic. Aria quickly moved around to a kneeling position in front of him. Her eyes shone brightly as she looked him in the face.
"Nope. Thats all you." She gave him a pristine smile as she answered. Nic looked back at the stick. He tried stopping the pressure on his hand, to see if that changed anything. When he did, the stick fell down onto his palm.
His eyes widened. He was finally able to use magic. The past two years had been worth it for this one moment in time. He tried applying pressure from his hand onto the stick. It floated back up. He put more pressure, causing it to float up a bit higher. Even more pressure. It stayed where it was.
That was the downside to learned magic. While Arias was strong because it was natural to her, Nic had learned his second hand. It was far weaker than Arias because of that.
"Its not as strong as yours, but it will be enough." Nic let the twig fall to the ground. He stood up, or at least attempted to stand up. Mid standing up, he had been tackled back down to the ground in a hug.
"Im so happy that it worked! I wouldve never thought about bringing you here before! Nice idea!" She was giggling as she talked. Her arms were wrapped around Nics neck in a hug. The two of them were laying on the grass for a few minutes, enjoying the moment. Eventually, Nic forced himself up, and Aria finally let go of him.
"Lets eat some dinner. Im starting to feel the pain of having not eaten all day." Nic was really starting to feel hungry. Aria readily agreed and the two set up camp on the top of the hill. A small fire was started and food was gotten out.
Nic watched Aria eat her first bite. He had made up his mind after learning that he could use even the tiniest bit of magic. He felt bad that it was going to end this way, but Aria would have to wait to learn the truth about him. Tonight, he had plans with his ancestral past. Taking a bite of his own food, Nic looked back out towards the city of Sanum.
Just down the hill they were on, sitting between Sanum and them, was a portion of the forest that was wrought black with decay. Sitting in the center of that section of the forest was a house. It was sure to be broken down and falling apart. That was Nics destination.
After the moon rose and night set in, Aria quickly fell asleep. Nic grabbed the black book out of his bag and opened to its last page. There he read the sentence left by his ancestor that had guided him throughout his life, and had led to him asking Aria to learn magic from her.
"Sleep soundly, Aria. Ill be back by the morning… Hopefully." Barely a whisper escaped Nics mouth as he set the book back under his bag and stood up. With barely a sound in the night, Nic had disappeared from the campsite.
An anomaly in her makeshift threat detector she threw up before heading to sleep woke Aria up in the middle of the night. The fire in front of her was still going strong. But on the other side, where Nic should have been, was empty air.
She looked around, seeing if he was anywhere, but saw no one. He had disappeared. Looking into his bag, Aria found an old black book. She could tell it was old by how beat up the cover was. She didn want to snoop around his personal belongings, but this was the only clue she had. He had always been secretive about his family. She knew that something was up, especially when he mentioned that they had been banned from Sanum the previous night.
She learned the truth the second she opened the book in her hands. Sitting right on the front page, faded but not gone, were the words "This is the journal of Noah Verilo".
Nic was a Verilo. For some reason, that made complete sense to Aria. Of course the Verilos would be banned from Sanum, considering what Noah had done three centuries prior.
Aria was sure of one thing though. She didn feel any differently about Nic. A normal person might have felt differently about him upon learning the truth, but to Aria he was still simply Nic. Sure he was cagey around those that he didn trust. He even still hid things from her. But he was still kind at his core. He always tried to give her the easy way out. He was always thoughtful during their conversations. When she was happy, he was happy (or at least pretended to be to keep her happy).
No matter what she learned in this book, none of that would change.
She flipped to the next page and read it. Then the next. And the next. Without an ounce of sleep, Aria soon found herself facing the morning sun as she read the last lines of the book.
She closed it and put it down on the ground next to Nics bag.
She thought no differently of him. Not even after realizing the lies he had told her about his dream. None of it had fazed her. After all, she simply wanted him to be free as well. She looked out over the forest between Sanum and her. In it, her eyes locked onto the decayed portion. That was where he was going.
As Aria stared at it, something felt off. The tension in her body was at its snapping point. Unable to stand it, she started running.